Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Can Online Tutors Improve the Quality of E-Learning?

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Can Online Tutors Improve the Quality of E-Learning?

Article excerpt

Introduction

E-learning is a form of learning in which the educational process is supported by information and communication technology (ICT). ICT was first used to support the delivery process in distance education (DE) to overcome the spatial and time separation between the teacher and students. The specifics of distance education stimulated the development of appropriate teaching and learning methods for over 100 years (Holmeberg 1995) of DE history. The DE methods stimulated active student participation and improved study outcomes. With the gradual introduction of ICT in traditional education, the DE teaching/learning methods were transferred to traditional education because of their innovative approach to teaching and learning. In this context new forms of learning emerged, varying from computer based learning, online learning, web-based learning, e-learning etc. All these new forms of learning that use ICT can therefore be called e-learning.

E-learning has became a popular form of learning in USA's enterprises, where the share of e-learning suppliers showed significant growth in the last years in respect to the share of suppliers of other forms of learning (Mugania, 2004, p. 1). The e-learning enthusiasm is similar to the enthusiasm of the dot.com boom, during which the great expectations of enterprises involved in e-business failed to materialize. A Britain's e-university's (UKeU) case (MacLeod, 2004) showed that the ICT is not the only factor for successful e-learning. Although the UKeU used the latest technology and prepared high quality study materials, only 900 students compared with the target 5,000 signed up at UKeU (MacLeod, 2004). As many e-learning researches showed, other institutions were also facing the problem of high drop-out rates. We summarized some of these findings in Table 1, and although different authors reported different figures, the data is alarming.

As seen in Table 1, there is a large variation in different drop-out rates figures. These variations can be explained by the fact that different research methods and research subjects were used in the selected researchers. The researchers tried to identify the most important factors that impede successful e-learning and that can cause higher drop-out rates. Chang (2004) summarized these factors in three groups: e-learning barriers, unmet student expectations, and faculty time limitation. Major e-learning barriers are: perceived psychological distance (due to spatial and temporal separation among participants) and technological problems. Both barriers can result in low student motivation and feelings of isolation that can of course make students drop out of a course. Next, Chang defines that there are three major student expectations that e-learning courses should meet: timely response time, sufficient supportiveness and comfortable relationship. These expectations often remain unmet due to faculty time limitations. Time limitations are a result of multiple roles that faculty are expected to perform online (these roles are: subject matter expert, online course manager, computer technology consultant) within a limited time span (Chang, 2004).

Mugania (2004) has developed seven categories of e-learning barriers: dispositional, learning style, instructional, organizational, situational, content suitability and techno-logical barriers. She found out that e-learning barriers differ among organizations she researched. Mugania (2004, p. 235) claimed that the technology is only a tool for teaching and learning, which means that the teaching and the learning processes should be reinvented and the roles of the teacher and the learner changed.

It is therefore no surprise that researchers are pointing out that quality e-learning needs efficient and quality student support. As the European agency CEDEFOP (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) concludes in its research E-learning in Europe: How do trainers, teachers and learners rate e-learning? …

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